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(International) Socio-Technical Challenges for implementing geological disposal

Final Report Summary - INSOTEC ((International) Socio-Technical Challenges for implementing geological disposal)

Executive Summary:
The overall aim of InSOTEC was to analyse the interplay between technical and socio-political challenges for implementing geological disposal and to advise on how these could be addressed. This was done within the broader context of how radioactive waste management strategies are defined (by technical experts and by society), and how geological disposal fits into these strategies.
InSOTEC researchers took the role of ‘critical experts’, reflecting on the development of disposal technology and its governance, with the aim of contributing to continuous technical innovation in this field. An emphasis was placed on studying ‘the social within the technical’, rather than on the ‘the social around the technical’; that is to say, on participation not only as a way to foster democratic values, but also to contribute to the creation of new knowledge and the identification of new solutions as a result of bringing in alternative perspectives, and how this could, in turn, contribute to technical choices.
Clearly the concept of geological disposal clearly has developed, and will continue to do so, not only because of evolutions in scientific knowledge, but also as a consequence of debates on how to integrate this technology into society. A clear example of this, is the introduction of the notion of retrievability into the concept of geological disposal in Switzerland since 2003, and that of reversibility in France since 2006. This shows that we need to think about geological disposal as a socio-technical concept of which the meaning and characteristics are negotiated and value laden.
The relative abstract notion of ‘technical problematisation’ (i.e. defining a problem related to a technological project, its probable causes and possible solutions in terms of technical modifications) referred to in various InSOTEC contributions invites concerned parties to think further on the practical implications thereof in their specific situation. It encourages implementers, regulators and the techno-scientific community working on repository design and issues related to the safety case to more explicitly invite concerned societal actors, such as citizens in potential host communities to participate in the technical debate. It encourages the latter to explicitly claim a role in that technical debate beyond discussing the local impact of the implementation of a given technology on a given location. This is not to say such awareness does not already exist. However, the tendency to ‘purify’ technical questions in order to move them away from the public domain and into the field of technical experts remains strong. InSOTEC findings remind all concerned to stay alert for this tendency, to be open to technical problematisation by society and not to necessarily disregard the putting into question of a technology as a cognitive misunderstanding nor to consider conflict by definition as a negative.
Considering the timescales associated with the nature of the waste as well as with the implementation of any long-term management strategy it is unlikely that at present we are able to envisage all problems, changes in the context, etc. that could arise over time. Therefore, InSOTEC calls for a different approach in dealing with uncertainties and proposes to approach the implementation of geological disposal as a (scientifically) controlled, open-ended exploration towards a possible solution. Flexibility thus also means the ability to maintain the capacity for technical innovation, which implies the continuation of research programmes as an integral part of the implementation process. A democratic process of continuous amelioration of the applied technology demands that both the implementation and accompanying research programmes are organised so as to engage society at large, and the most directly concerned actors in particular, in defining what are remaining questions and how they should be addressed.
In order to take further the findings from this project, InSOTEC partners think it is important to broaden the stream of social sciences research on radioactive waste management to include research on the social aspects of science and technology in this matter and on the technical translation of socio-political requirements. Furthermore we see a need for more integrated and interdisciplinary R(D)&D projects on radioactive waste management in general and of geological disposal in particular, bringing together researchers from natural sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities.

Table 1 InSOTEC project partners

Partner full name Short name Country
1 UNIVERSITEIT ANTWERPEN UA Belgium
2 UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA UEA United Kingdom
3 OEKO-INSTITUT E.V. - INSTITUT FÜR ANGEWANDTE OEKOLOGIE OEKO Germany
4 GOETEBORGS UNIVERSITET UGOT Sweden
5 CENTRE NATIONAL DE LA RECHERCHE SCIENTIFIQUE CNRS France
6 CENTRE FOR SOCIAL SCIENCES, HUNGARIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (*) MTA TK Hungary
7 GROUP OF EUROPEAN MUNICIPALITIES WITH NUCLEAR FACILITIES GMF Spain
8 TAMPEREEN YLIOPISTO UTA Finland
9 JYVASKYLAN YLIOPISTO JYU Finland
10 UNIVERZA V LJUBLJANI UL Slovenia
11 UNIVERZITA KARLOVA V PRAZE CUNI Czech Republic
12 MARTELL LAMOLLA MERITXELL MERIENCE Spain
13 UNIVERSITETET I OSLO UiO Norway
14 VARI GOLDSTEIN ANNA (**) Vári Hungary
15 JOZSEF FERENCZ ZOLTAN (**) Ferencz Hungary
16 ECOLE DES HAUTES ETUDES EN SCIENCES SOCIALES (***) EHESS France
(*) Up until 31/8/2012; (**) As from 1/09/2012 (replacing MTA TK); (***) As from 1/07/2013

Project Context and Objectives:
2 Project context and objectives
2.1 Project objectives
The overall aim of InSOTEC was to analyse the interplay between technical and socio-political challenges for implementing geological disposal and to advise on how these could be addressed.
The point of view taken is that the implementation of geological disposal should be seen as a means to attain a safe long term management of radioactive waste, rather than a goal in itself. The socio-technical challenges for implementing geological disposal were therefore looked at within the broader context of how radioactive waste management strategies are defined (by technical experts and by society), and how geological disposal fits into these strategies.
The socio-political dimension of radioactive waste management (RWM) became a key point of attention in the context of preparing and legitimising decisions on siting. Since the 1990s, both at national and international level initiatives have been taken to identify and address these ‘social aspects’, and find methods of engaging siting communities. EC-projects, such as RISCOM and COWAM, and the activities and publications of the NEA’s Forum on Stakeholder Confidence (FSC), have been instrumental in identifying good practices, strengths and weaknesses of emerging national initiatives and making concrete suggestions on the do’s and don’ts of implementing deliberative decision making processes in radioactive waste management (e.g.: Andersson et al 1998 , 2004 , NEA-FSC 2004a , 2004b ). Nuclear waste management organisations (NWMOs) initiated research into societal issues and stakeholder engagement, with SKB’s Social Science Research Programme (2004 to 2010) as the most elaborated example.
With regard to geological disposal, a general consensus appears to exist among implementers today that stepwise is the way forward, probably even the only way; and a general endorsement can be observed of participatory approaches (Pescatore & Vari) , as well as a turn to the humanities and social sciences to provide expertise. However, this does not mean this is being implemented everywhere in the same way, nor that the same level of consensus exists on the implementation and content of such a stepwise and participatory process, or on the role of social sciences. As Lits (2013) pointed out, there are in general three ways in which social scientists address the question of radioactive waste. A first is by adopting a role of mediators or engineers of deliberative processes. This applies largely to the initiatives and former EC-projects mentioned above. A second role is that of ‘complementary experts’, focusing on the question of social impact and acceptability. This way of approaching the question of radioactive waste management from a social perspective puts a strong focus on the context within which a technical solution is (to be) implemented and in doing so, remains largely within the realm of the more traditional domains of the social sciences and humanities, considering issues such as risk perception, impact on community life, on employment, on well-being, etc. A third role for social scientists identified by Lits, is that of ‘critical experts’, reflecting on the development of technology and its governance, thus contributing to technical innovation in itself (Lits 2013).
It is to this last role that InSOTEC, as a social sciences research project, wishes to contribute. Thus an emphasis was placed on studying ‘the social within the technical’, rather than on the ‘the social around the technical’ (as would be the emphasis of the first strand identified by Lits). Hence the choice to study socio-technical challenges which arise from the necessary exchange between technical and societal viewpoints when public participation is taken as the norm when developing and implementing geological disposal as a long-term RWM strategy. After all, citizens and the public have concerns regarding long-term safety, performance confirmation and managing uncertainty and risk which are directly linked to the proposed technology. This has been made clear by social science research (see for example: Bergmans et al 2008 , Elam et al 2008 , Vahteristo 2008 ) and national consultation initiatives, such as the Czech Consensus Panel within the frame of the ARGONA project (Vojtechova 2008) , and the Belgian Consensus Panel - or Public Forum - on the long-term management of high-level and long-lived waste (KBS 2010) . Furthermore, the concept of geological disposal clearly has developed, and will continue to do so, not only because of evolutions in scientific knowledge, but also as a consequence of debates on how to integrate this technology into society. A clear example of this, is the introduction, by legal obligation, of the seemingly contradictory notion of retrievability into the concept of geological disposal in Switzerland and that of reversibility in France . The adapted concept of geological disposal that is being developed in these and other countries today (see for example the NEA’s R&R project: NEA 2011 ) still has to prove its capacity for resolving competing values with regard to the safe disposal of radioactive waste. But it does show that we need to think about geological disposal (or more generally any technique to provide in the long term management of high level waste or spent fuel) not as a technology designed by scientists and experts, but as a socio-technical concept of which the meaning and characteristics are negotiated and value laden.

InSOTEC research focused on situations and issues where the relationship between geological disposal as a technology and its (future) social environment is still unstable, ambiguous and controversial, and where negotiations are taking place in terms of problem definitions and preferred solutions. As a first step to identify the most striking issues, country reports were prepared. These addressed the main socio-technical challenges in 14 countries (Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA), by analysing how national programmes integrate societal ‘boundary conditions’ (including concerns about safety, but also for example political and economic constraints) with the environmental, technical and regulatory boundary conditions for geological disposal facility design. Following a cross-national analysis of these findings, the following topics were identified for further research:
- reversibility and retrievability (R&R);
- siting;
- demonstrating safety;
- technology transfer.
Through targeted case study research, based on Science and Technology Studies (STS) methodology (as developed for example in: Bijker et al 1987 , Callon et al 1986 , Callon et al 2001 , Latour 1986 , Jasanoff 2004 ), InSOTEC aimed to develop a fine-grained understanding of how the technical and the social influence, shape and build upon each other in the case of RWM and the design and implementation of geological disposal. How are socio-technical combinations in this field translated and materialized into the solutions finally adopted? With what kinds of tools and instruments are they being integrated?
In addition, InSOTEC researchers mapped and analysed interactions between those organisations producing technical knowledge on radioactive waste management and the main users and lay stakeholders. The aim of this was to consider how other sources and types of knowledge feed into this system and whether and how a closer interaction between the different spheres could be pursued. A good part of this exploration was directed at how the Implementing Geological Disposal Technology Platform (IGD-TP) could link to a broader range of stakeholders on a structured basis than was the case at the outset of the project. For this purpose, a comparison was drawn with other ETPs. Furthermore, an analyses was made of R&D programmes on geological disposal at the national level in IGD-TP member countries in order to understand who is involved in the agenda setting of these programmes and which disciplines are invited to contribute.

2.2 Project structure
The work in the InSOTEC project was structured in seven work packages (see figure 1). Three of those were supportive work packages, dedicated to communication and dissemination activity, the organisation of seminars, and project management. The four research oriented work packages were organised as follows:
WP1 provided a review of national and international RWM focusing on the correlation of socio-political and techno-scientific challenges and whether or not they are acknowledged and dealt with as such.
WP2 consisted of an assessment of mechanisms regarding the interaction of social and technical challenges through a number of case studies within the above mentioned topics of siting (3 case studies); technology transfer and transfer of socio-technical innovations (4 case studies); the issue of R&R (3 case studies); and the demonstration of safety (5 case studies).
WP3 looked at arenas where socio-technical combinations on RWM are formed through the co-production of knowledge between different actors. For this reason, networks or spaces were explored where people and organisations from various backgrounds interact with each other and create knowledge through a process of dialogue. A particular case study was the IGD-TP.
WP4 linked the research activity to the practice of RWM and geological disposal by offering concluding reflections and recommendations.

Figure 2 Structure of the InSOTEC project (please see in report in attach - figure doesn't come out in this format)



Project Results:
3 Description of the main S&T results/foregrounds
The work undertaken in the InSOTEC project is presented below in 4 sections, corresponding to the 4 research work packages presented in the previous section. This description summarises the main deliverables resulting from InSOTEC research.
3.1 WP 1: Mapping remaining socio-technical challenges for implementing geological disposal

Work Package 1 (WP1) established the context for the innovative research conducted in the subsequent WPs through two activities. The first of these was a review of published outputs of international programmes and projects that addressed the relationships between radioactive waste management (RWM), geological disposal and society, and which was presented as Deliverable 1.1. The second activity first involved the production of individual milestone reports on the current socio-technical challenges confronting RWM, in particular geological disposal, in fourteen countries. These reports were produced as a resource for partners to draw upon during subsequent phases of the research and informed the selection of case studies for WP2; a higher-level synthesis of these national reports, which outlined similarities and differences across the various national contexts and programmes, was presented as Deliverable 1.2. The main findings of each of these elements of the work package are outlined, in turn, below.
Main findings of review of international programmes and projects
Social aspects of RWM are very often framed by policy actors and implementers as ‘governance’ issues. We reviewed the main findings from previous EC-EURATOM funded RWM governance projects (FP5 to FP7), together with reports from the RISKBRIDGE and CARL projects and from the OECD-NEA’s Forum on Stakeholder Confidence (FSC) and Radioactive Waste Management Committee (RWMC), as well as one governance-oriented IAEA publication. The review focused in particular on the extent to which a link was made between social aspects and technical issues. Although the term ‘socio-technical’ has become fairly widely used to characterise the combined social and technical nature of RWM and geological disposal, our review confirmed that research on RWM commissioned or conducted by organisations in the nuclear policy sector has so far mainly focussed on participatory processes, and that less effort has been dedicated to describing and analysing the socio-technical content of such processes. Almost all of the reports reviewed identify RWM and/or geological disposal as entailing tensions between social and technical aspects, but typically this is presented in a manner that emphasises the distinction between the two. Some of the reports reflect this separation, describing remaining issues in terms of socio-political challenges and accepting the proposed waste management technologies as a given. These reports focus on the case for involving a broader range of stakeholders, most notably from local communities, and suggest tools and conditions for doing so. These accounts focus on participation as a means to enhance the political legitimacy of the process and to foster social acceptance by demonstrating that the decision making process meets societal expectations of fairness and inclusiveness - that is to say, criteria of procedural justice - and thereby contributing to the social and political robustness of the outcome. However, as social scientists have long pointed out, this ‘instrumental’ motivation is only one of the rationales for widening participation when addressing scientifically- and technically-framed policy problems and only one of the functions that it can serve. Social science has identified at least two other significant rationales: the first of these is the ‘normative’ rationale of fostering democratic values; the second, to which rather less attention has been paid, is the contribution that widening participation can make to the creation of new knowledge and the identification of new solutions as a result of bringing in alternative perspectives, and how this could, in turn, contribute to technical choices. When motivated by a normative rationale, trust is put in democracy to resolve the problem of clashing values but this does not need to have a material effect on the technology that causes clashing values to surface. When, however, participation is elaborated to also include the phase of problem definition, knowledge building, and the identification of potential solutions, more socio-technical aspects come to the foreground. This is most evident in the context of addressing the interest- and value-laden nature of knowledge and research, in particular with regard to dealing with uncertainties related to the long-term performance of a geological repository. The inclusion of multiple perspectives by various actors and disciplines is often recommended in these cases, but again most of the reports focus on process-related qualities such as openness and transparency, rather than on the content-related outcome of incorporating a plurality of perspectives in the development of disposal technology. Furthermore, many reports in this vein focus on siting, implicitly suggest that once beyond that hurdle, a more technically-driven ‘business as usual’ can be resumed. Given that in a number of cases, that hurdle has fairly recently been crossed (e.g. for geological disposal of higher activity wastes in Finland and Sweden; for other types of waste in Belgium and Slovenia), how the process evolves in practice may merit further exploration.
A rather different perspective can be found in some of the FSC reports, which explore a number of substantive issues and potential solutions that entail the social shaping of technology; for example, incorporating features into the design of a geological repository that will address the challenges of the memorialisation, comprehensibility and accessibility of the site over the very long time scales for which it would need to remain secure and safe from human intrusion. Nevertheless, the FSC reports remain vague, necessarily so given the current state of understanding of how best to address these issues, with regard to how these ideas would be realized and what their consequences might be. Moreover, the main emphasis in many of these reports is not on the influence of the social in shaping the technical, but on the influence of the technical in shaping the social in a certain direction, for example towards creating positive symbolism and cultural associations around geological disposal. In line with this finding, a recurrent theme in many reports is that social aspects are important, but that these are distinct from the technical basis for safety, which always takes priority. Despite the example of memorialisation to protect against human intrusion, the reasons why socio-political aspects need to be taken into account are hardly ever directly related to safety, which mostly remains defined as a techno-scientific quality. This is consistent with a vision of social aspects as a supplement that is subordinate to and needs to be reconciled with the imperative of ‘objective’ technical and scientific facts.
In contrast to this some of the reports reviewed hold out the potential for a more equal and integrative treatment of the social and the technical, for example in proposals for integrated ‘risk governance’ frameworks (e.g. RISCOM II, ARGONA, RiskBridge) and models of ‘stepwise decision making’ (e.g. FSC, RWMC). Although a majority of the reports reviewed address RWM in general, rather than focusing on the specific technology of geological disposal, a significant number of them do touch with varying degrees of emphasis on the fact that ‘social’ aspects (whether political preferences, public concerns, social values, national traditions, assumptions about future generations, financial considerations, decision making processes, …) and ‘techno-scientific’ aspects (e.g. the kind of waste stored, the geological characteristics of the disposal site, the physical properties of containers for storage, (tools for) measurements, …) of geological disposal are not easily separable. For example, those which propose a stepwise approach acknowledge the competing requirements of goal-centeredness, focused on achieving an end state of passive safety, and of adaptability, expressed for example as flexibility or reversibility, presenting a stepwise approach as a means to deal, if only partially and temporarily, with this tension. Reports that discuss more integrative perspectives very often refer to topics that the InSOTEC partners have identified as crucial socio-technical challenges, such as retrievability, siting, and defining safety and performance assessment criteria. In general, then, many of the reports reviewed reflect greater awareness of social issues and recognition of the need to open up to different perspectives and types of expertise than was the case in earlier decades. Examples of specific socio-technical challenges (e.g. siting or monitoring) and socio-technical combinations (e.g. reversibility and retrievability) can therefore be found in most reports, even if their recognition is often implicit and even in juxtaposition to the main line of argument that is presented. However, even though a small number of reports explicitly acknowledge the mutual shaping of technology and society (e.g. CARL, RISCOM II, the FSC report on partnering for long-term management), a thorough analysis of the specifics of the socio-technical nature of RWM and geological disposal does not yet seem to have been made. This confirms the distinctiveness of the approach taken by the InSOTEC partners to exploring further this complex entanglement between social and technical aspects of RWM and geological disposal and to making it, and its implications, more explicit.
Main findings of synthesis of national reports on socio-technical challenges to geological disposal
The international review of the socio-technical challenges facing geological disposal began by examining the current situation in fourteen countries, comprising those of the Partners to the project supplemented with four others: Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The findings of these fourteen country reports, which provided context and resources for the work of WP2 and WP3, were synthesised in D1.2 to identify key socio-technical challenges to the implementation of geological disposal of radioactive waste that could be the focus of detailed cross-national analysis in WP2. Focussing mainly on HLW/SNF disposal as the most challenging task on the transnational level at this time, we began with clarifying the uses of the notion of ‘socio-technical’. We found that it had multiple meanings and applications in previous social science endeavours. The usage adopted by the InSOTEC project builds on the conceptual underpinnings in science and technology studies, applying them to the specific analytical task of better understanding the challenges facing RWM and geological disposal. It is however important to emphasise that, despite the theoretical and empirical elaboration of the nature of socio-technical challenges that is presented in subsequent work packages, the concept needs to be kept open to reflection and revision, rather than being defined in terms of a fixed set of criteria or characteristics, in order to enable further insights and to support continued social learning.
The identification of socio-technical challenges for further analysis was intended to capture processes that were not restricted to a specific national context and which reconfigured, at a specific time, the boundaries between what is considered social or technical. The selection did not therefore attempt to encompass all of the issues identified in the individual country reports but rather focussed on identifying exemplary issues with the potential to enhance understanding of the socio-technical nature of RWM and geological disposal. From the range of issues identified in the individual country reports four such issues were identified: safety; siting; reversibility/retrievability; and managing over the long-term.
We found the issue of safety to be the primary socio-technical challenge addressed by geological disposal. Geological disposal commands widespread confidence in the international science and engineering communities. It is an idea that has shaped science, engineering, policy and politics in all countries with HLW/SNF over the last half century. Although proposals have been introduced for alternatives, such as prolonged interim storage, and partitioning and transmutation technology, the consensus view remains that geological disposal is the only viable long-term option. The proposed solution of HLW/SNF geological disposal has been subjected to extensive research since its introduction in the late 1950s and it has become much more sophisticated, underpinning specific proposals for repository design. However, given the novel nature of and the uncertainties associated with designing for these timescales, geological disposal as a solution to the problem of safety may be viewed as a technoscientific hypothesis, one that cannot be exhaustively proven until a repository has been constructed and functioned as expected for the duration of the risk. Since that might take hundreds of thousands of years, the hypothesis, in effect, is empirically untestable, notwithstanding that other means such laboratory experiments, reference to natural analogues, and computer models are employed instead. The fact that no repository is yet in operation prompts the present analysis to regard geological disposal not simply as a technology solving a problem but as a hybrid socio-technical combination - that is, a dynamically entangled set of social and technical elements – which addresses the inherently socio-technical challenge of safety.
In the circumstances brought about through the commitment to geological disposal of HLW/SNF, a major socio-technical challenge that remains unsolved in most implementation programmes is that of siting. The country reports show how the search for and selection of sites by national governments, following recommendations from the techno-science community, has triggered extensive public opposition wherever attempted. Government- or implementer-led top-down siting of HLW/SNF repositories has failed at different points in time in all of the InSOTEC partner countries that have tried it, leading to re-orientations of policy. The pathways that have been and are currently being followed in the countries reviewed demonstrate significant variation in the twists and turns followed. In some countries negotiations with local communities enabled implementers to move forward; in others more radical re-formulations of policy were necessary. Everywhere governments have found themselves forced to accept a more active role for local communities affected by geological disposal. The involvement of other social actors range from voluntary siting processes in which local communities express interest in hosting a repository, to elected local authorities having veto rights in relation to repository construction. In some countries siting has been relegated to the future as more pressing matters, such as safe interim storage, are addressed. Meanwhile, some countries are still in the process of deciding on siting procedures while in a few the process is currently on hold, for a variety of reasons.
The emergence of reversibility and/or retrievability as an issue to be addressed in siting and design processes prompted us to regard it as a socio-technical challenge in its own right. It is an interesting development because it appears to be at odds with the original concept of geological disposal as providing passive safety by containing the waste and physically isolating it from the biosphere. The country reports account for distinct national approaches to this issue, which are discussed among implementers, regardless of whether national policy demands it. The extent of the discussion encouraged us to consider international communication among those actors who are engaged in the process – not only implementers and regulators but also actors from civil society. In anticipation of the further work to be carried out in WP2 and WP3, the review of national reports was supplemented with a more experimental web-mapping approach to explore virtual connections, which enabled some reflection regarding the dominance, or absence, of certain actors on the international scene, and what this might imply in terms of (national) agenda setting in research and policy, setting up these questions for closer investigation later in the project.
International speculative deliberation is what prompts us to identify the long term as a socio-technical challenge. Societal memory, specifically the preservation of knowledge of the repository design and of the hazard posed, has long been recognised as an issue by implementers and other actors. Experts from a wide range of disciplines have considered the durability of physical markers and cultural symbols, of materials and meaning systems over the very long term. The challenge of memory over the very long-term will assume greater importance in national programmes if repository construction progresses as planned, but a more immediate challenge lies in what might be described in human terms as the medium long-term. This concerns the reconfiguration of geological disposal that follows from the adoption of voluntary siting processes and extended stakeholder involvement, which brings HLW/SNF repositories into a developing culture of socio-technical democracy that reflects wider trends in societal expectations and policy practice and which did not exist when geological disposal was first posited and adopted as a RWM strategy. Sited in host communities, powering local economies and embedding in local cultures, long before societal memory becomes an issue geological repositories will need governance structures to enable democratically acceptable decision-making over a transgenerational timescale from siting through construction to the operational, closure and, potentially, post-closure stages. The challenge of designing, implementing and learning from such socio-technical governance experiments is therefore the aspect of the very long-term nature of the issue that we identify as likely to provide the most analytical insight in the context of the InSOTEC project.
3.2 WP2: Developing a better understanding of socio-technical combinations
Based on the 14 country reports (published and summarised as the result of Work Package 1) Work Package 2 (WP2) identified four topics within which 3 to 5 cross-cutting case studies were carried out. Each case study was to focus on a specific aspect, object, practice or situation related to the topic showing a particular tension between the technical and the social. The 15 produced case studies focused on critical issues of importance in the majority of the 14 nations involved. The case studies were summarised in four topical reports. The four topics concern demonstrating safety, siting, retrievability/reversibility and technology transfer. They were chosen as a result of our ambition to identify critical issues of great importance to radioactive waste management in almost all of the 14 nations studied. These are generic issues and are therefore of interest to cross-national studies and also for further theoretical elaborations.
Topic 1 Reversibility & Retrievability
Despite its prominence in international discussion fora, the notion of reversibility and retrievability (R&R) remains rather unclear, both conceptually as well as with regard to its practical purpose and implementation. No final answers have been formulated to the questions of why should and how could R&R be concretised, and over which timespans. In spite of recent efforts to neatly define and distinguish between the notions of reversibility and retrievability (e.g. the NEA’s R&R project), both are still understood differently by different countries and organisations. This research topic therefore aimed to understand the origins and emergence of reversibility (or, conversely, why this theme has not emerged) and analyses how this principle has led to original socio-technical combinations.
Three case studies were conducted, of which two are published as working papers on the InSOTEC website:
- Two Ways for Democracy to Absorb Technological Conflicts: Negotiating Nuclear Waste in France and Sweden (available as working paper)
- Acting for Passive Safety (available as working paper)
- Re-shaping Geological Disposal: Sociotechnical Translations of Reversibility into Practice (available in power point presentation – Berlin seminar)
Based on our findings, R&R can be perceived as a threat to the ‘closure potential’ of GD as a demonstrable safe and definitive solution for RW, which, for example, in Sweden, was a formal requirement for the further development of nuclear energy. This relates to what in social science literature is more generally referred to as technological ‘lock-in’. Technologies may, after some time, start to exhibit a sort of irreversibility due to the legacy of former expectations which seem to pre-discipline the imagination and due to institutional and financial commitments which seem to pre-discipline the potential for innovation.
One question that may be asked, is whether R&R primarily introduces new uncertainties, as opponents seem to highlight, or primarily acknowledges existing ones, as proponents seem to suggest. What the notions do in any case, is to bring interpretative flexibility to long-term RWM, opening disposal technology to a wider variety of actors and allowing contextual adaptability.
Topic 2 Siting
Three full-fledged original case studies on siting have been elaborated and finalised. Two of them are published as working papers on the InSOTEC website:
- The History of Siting a Geological Repository for High Level Radioactive Waste in Germany - The Evolution of a Waste Management Concept over 40 years from a socio-technical perspective (available as working paper)
- Siting the Nuclear Waste Repository in the Czech Republic: Twists and Turns Towards Technical Democracy (available as working paper)
- The Second Repository for Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel in Finland: An analysis of the Interests, Resources and Tactics of the Key Actors (available as working paper)
‘Siting’ seems to be a simple descriptive term, referring to an unavoidable phase of the process. However, the notion and practice of siting in fact implies fundamental socio-technical tensions. In RWM practice, siting is often assumed to take place as one phase among others, logically scheduled as something that comes at a certain moment, and only when it is finished, other things can follow. As such, it sometimes turns out to represent a ‘purely political’ (or ‘purely social’) part of the entire process, when so much is focused on negotiations and public participation, while ‘technical details’ are put aside for the time being. However, in the InSOTEC perspective, practices of problematising an issue as (purely) ‘social’, ‘political’, or ‘technical’ are part of the solution as well as part of the problem: whereas they make the whole process more manageable on the one hand, on the other hand the InSOTEC perspective reminds us that at the same time there is ‘no escape’ from socio-technical complexity.
The three case studies explore this tension. The Czech case study describes how after a failed attempt to choose a site primarily according to geological and ‘technical’ criteria, the siting question was rearticulated as essentially a ‘social’ problem. The technical questions related to the repository were ‘black-boxed’ and displaced from the public debate. The case study then shows how this contributed to the failure of the dialogue, which soon became an empty deliberative exercise, with frustration growing on both sides of the controversy. As a result, the Czech stakeholders are now witnessing a regression (back) towards more authoritative and expert-driven decision-making.
The German case study is concerned with two key developments: first, it analyses how the initial emphasis on specific bedrock qualities in the German siting process narrowed down the scope of candidate sites, and second, it discusses how subsequent articulation of more diversified geological conditions has become associated with a hope for a more democratic approach. In other words, here the intricacy of social and technical problematisation is discussed against processes of localisation and de-localisation.
The Finnish case study shows how repository siting became a part of a seemingly different problem – the effort of the Fennovoima company to enter the nuclear energy production sector. The case study analyses primarily the arguments of two competing companies, as well as the government’s policy of trying to stand back from the controversy. Interestingly, the case study shows how technical criteria concerning the repository outweighed some other arguments, such as those related to national interests and political appeals to dialogue and cooperation.
All in all, the contribution of the siting case studies consists in an enhanced understanding of what happens on the borderline between the ‘social’ and the ‘technical’. On the one hand, we maintain the position that socio-technical complexities are highly specific, situated and in a way irreducible, and should be reflected as such. On the other hand, the siting case studies show how these complexities are practically made manageable by means of various simplifications and purifications (i.e. by effectively shaping particular issues and problems as ‘social’ and ‘technical’). In this way, the case studies draw attention to the need to remain sensitive to these practices.
Topic 3 Demonstrating safety
Safety is a relative issue that needs a broadly agreed reference level, which may change over time. Thus, safety is always a result of negotiation and development, whether this is part of a societal dialogue or – less preferably – ‘only’ the result of scientific exchange among experts. One major task is to address and adjust these factors over time – in a technically and socially adequate, but open manner, while acknowledging dynamics and instability. The case studies reflect that safety is a matter of constructing repositories that isolate waste and a matter of being able to show that this will be the case: both the realisation and the demonstration of safety are at stake. The case studies thus focus on a variety of technologies used for constructing and showing safety: technical barriers, modelling, risk dialogue, underground laboratories, and social learning.
Five case studies were conducted. Four are published as working papers on the InSOTEC website:
- Modelling the safety of a future geological disposal facility in England (available as working paper)
- The role of URLs in materialising safety arguments (available in power point presentation – Berlin seminar)
- Demonstrating safety: elements and conditions of social learning as a prerequisite of safety in radioactive waste management processes (as working paper)
- Risk governance through risk dialogue: Copper corrosion as a sociotechnical safety challenge in the geological disposal of spent nuclear fuel (available as working paper)
- Copper corrosion controversies: managing overflow in Swedish nuclear waste (available as working paper)
One important finding is that in most of the cases, the regulatory requirements of safety play an important role in the lengthy planning and implementation process associated with geological disposal. To date, neither the regulatory requirements nor the technical solutions can deal with an idea of safety as a defined ‘end-product’. The regulations thus have to find a delicate balance between providing the necessary reliable reference levels for different review steps while simultaneously maintaining flexibility that allows for further development and adaptations over time, reflecting technical progress as well as societal and political developments. The basis of new definitions and the preparation of safety arguments (see the case studies on URLs and modelling in the UK) as well as instruments of negotiation (see the Swedish copper corrosion case) are substantiated by the cases and at different levels. The communicative approach in the copper case, the social learning context in which German expert groups found themselves and the activities and infrastructure of the URLs all provided the opportunity for scientists to develop and to communicate their arguments about safety.
In all of the cases, the role of actor groups and actor networks turned out to be of great importance for the definition of and discourse on demonstrating safety. The behaviour and engagement of external actor groups, as well as the scientific debate, often initiated by actor groups and stakeholders (as in the Swedish case on copper corrosion), motivated the implementer to present additional safety arguments. Similar learning steps – a change in the technical conceptualisation provoked by public debates and accompanying expert groups – could be observed in the German case (social learning in the context of the Asse process).
We learnt from the cases that an alleged strong safety statement might in fact weaken the whole argument and credibility of the ‘sender’.
Topic 4 Technology transfer
This topic has addressed the growing interest in technology and knowledge transfer as a means of overcoming challenges and obstacles delaying the geological disposal of radioactive waste in Europe. Reflecting the bifurcation of processes of technical and political problematisation highlighted by InSOTEC research, emerging transfer practices have been found to be coalescing around two different types of technologies. We have found that not only demonstrated technical solutions but also political and governance mechanisms, such as novel forms of stakeholder involvement, are being treated as transferable objects between different national waste management programmes. Because highly-developed geological disposal solutions, such as Sweden’s KBS-3 concept, still remain unimplemented, we are able to confirm that the overriding focus of technology transfer activity is on the further diffusion of combined expert and public confidence in demonstrated technical solutions. Given the relative intangibility of confidence as an object of concern, we have found that it is just the subtle combination of technical and political actions, that is called for to bring about its enlargement across time and space.
Four individual case studies have been carried out under this topic. Two cases deal with the international transfer of the Swedish KBS-3 concept for geological disposal looking at its initial adoption in Finland and its further dissemination through the new corporate body SKB International after 2001. The other two case studies deal with the international circulation of technologies of citizen participation introduced during the site selection phase when maintaining and expanding confidence in geological disposal solutions is especially challenging. From the research carried out we conclude that neither demonstrated solutions nor technologies of participation can travel without deformation and transformation as neither are self-contained enough to survive outside of the webs of relations that imbue them with meaning and purpose. Thus, in both instances international transfer implies processes of technical and political adaptation.
All four case studies are published as working papers on the InSOTEC website:
- Adaptation of the Swedish KBS disposal concept to Finland: a technology transfer case study (available as working paper)
- Transferring social technologies: the case of ‘Belgian’ local RWD partnerships (available as working paper)
- Swedish nuclear waste management on the move: from the Finnish uptake of KBS-3 to the rise of SKB International (available as working paper)
- Czech dialogues by Swedish design (available as working paper)
Synthesis of main findings
In the WP2 synthesis report (deliverable D2.1) the findings of the case studies and the topical reports were used in view of contributing to a further democratisation of technological innovation in long-term radioactive waste management, as well as to advancement in STS research practice. While the aim was to make more explicit what could be considered as ‘stable’ socio-technical combinations and how to arrive at that point, the case studies learned that in the case of complex socio-technical challenges, flexibility and adaptability have a greater chance of supporting democratic technological innovation (and thus arriving at acceptable and workable solutions) than a strong emphasis on pushing for stability and (problem) closure. The notion of socio-technical combination works well as an analytical tool to consider social aspects of a particular technology or to understand how a technology tries to respond to a particular societal demand. However, it is less suitable as a category or ‘quality label’ for artefacts in the making. Therefore D2.1 introduces the notion of social and technical problematisation, emphasising that striving for a stable relationship between the technical and the social in dealing with the long-term problem of radioactive waste is best served through a process of technical problematisation in which the technical project is understood as flexible and negotiable.
The overall theoretical ambition of the WP2 synthesis report was to achieve a better understanding of the socio-technical divide. Nuclear power and nuclear waste are commonly addressed on the basis of a strong technical and social divide. Such a divide plays a significant part in the predominant understanding of technological innovation in modern society, codifying the relationship between society and technology in terms of technological supremacy embedded in a more or less supportive social context. This divide also influences the social sciences’ understanding of technological development, which often blackboxes the working of technological objects, leaving the delegation of responsibility almost entirely to technical experts. We call this separation of the technical and the social the first wave in understanding technological innovation. In contrast, the academic field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) has the ambition to overcome this divide. This second wave of understanding technological innovation is about focusing on the strong and continuously intertwined relationships between the social and the technical, that is, socio-technical combinations. While the second wave is correct in stating that the social and the technical are entangled, with the technical never being ‘purely technical’, the first wave is also correct insofar as some issues are more technical than others, that is, a technical problematisation is different to a social problematisation of the same issue. In the WP2 synthesis report we discuss the limitations of both of these understandings, proposing a third wave called problematisation: the process of defining what a problem is in a given situation, identifying the causes of this problem and proposing ways to resolve it.
In order to democratise technological innovation, social scientists should be more focused on how technical problematisation occurs. To focus on divisions or combinations in this regard is of no help. The concept of technical problematisation aims to make technical democracy real – to make public participation and social science research related to technical activities more meaningful. The three waves are illustrated by examples from the various case studies. The nuclear field is one where the social and the technical dimensions have traditionally been most distinctly separated, where the search for ‘pure’ and definitive technical solutions that can guarantee safety for thousands of years has been the ultimate goal and delegated to technical experts alone. However, during recent decades there has been a push for increasing participation and more democracy in decision-making, with much experimentation taking place. But the only way these activities will successfully support the democratising process is for them to be integrated into the technical problematisation of proposed radwaste solutions.
3.3 WP 3: Addressing the interaction among the producers and users of socio-technical knowledge in RWM
Work Package 3 (WP3) stared out with an analysis of the IGD-TP as a particular case study of a knowledge network. European Technology Platforms can be understood as knowledge networks, deliberately set up to influence research policy in a specific domain. Organisational aspects and issues of practical inclusiveness/exclusiveness associated with the IGD-TP were investigated. Following Callon’s (1999) three models of co-production of knowledge, a single and comprehensive framework was proposed to interpret different configurations of the relationship between experts and stakeholders. The scenarios of stakeholder involvement range from the ‘deficit’ or ‘public education’ model of public engagement through more collaborative platforms of co-production of knowledge. The scenarios should be regarded as part of a spectrum of stakeholder involvement in which the intensity of engagement is higher as we move along the spectrum. There is no ‘best place’ to be along this continuum and one model is not better than the other. The position depends on what is appropriate for a particular phase of a particular process, depending on the contextual circumstances. These scenarios could thus be used to enrich the understanding of the nature and role of stakeholder involvement in the context of the IGD-TP. These potential scenarios for stakeholder involvement in the IGD-TP were discussed at length with representatives of the IGD-TP Executive Group and presented at two Exchange Forum meetings in Paris in 2012 and in Prague in 2013.
The approach of the IGD-TP seems to fall mostly into a model between the public education and public debate models. Firstly, the experts involved in the IGD-TP seem to come from similar disciplinary backgrounds, which makes it easier for them to communicate and interact but probably more difficult to acknowledge that other stakeholder’s knowledge has the potential to improve the identification of problems and the search for feasible acceptable solutions. Secondly, the actions currently undertaken to involve stakeholders in deliberation and discussion seem more in line with the first model and are not fully consistent with the IGD-TP’s discourse. Stakeholders, such as NGOs, local communities, regulators, are either not involved in the platform or are only involved on a very limited scale. This limited involvement may be attributed to the lack of a clear strategy on stakeholder involvement, and some perceived resistance within the EG towards change. At the same time, some representatives of the EG indicate the need for more input in terms of quantity and representation from some groups (like NGOs). Finally, the role and nature of the Exchange Forum (EF) is not yet clear as its objectives are not well-defined. It is unclear if it should be a dissemination mechanism, a consultation tool, a forum for exchanging and sharing R&D results among agencies and research organisations, for proposing R&D projects or a mixed approach to information dissemination and consultation. Under the knowledge co-production model, one could assume more opportunities to allow and enable stakeholders to, as Sundqvist and Elam suggest, “legitimately raise and articulate their concerns, leading to a process of issue transformation capable of engaging and animating all involved parties” (Sundqvist and Elam, 2010: 222) . The decision to no longer demand people and organisations to endorse the vision in order to participate in EF meetings creates a new form in uncertainty, as the difference between members and non-members becomes blurred.
As a continuation to the analysis of the IGD-TP as a knowledge network contributing to the R&D agenda on geological disposal at European level, WP3 then analysed the networks around research and development (R&D) programmes in radioactive waste management and geological disposal at national level. Deliverable 3.2. “Integrating societal concerns into research and development (R&D) on geological disposal at national level” identified current and ongoing R&D programmes around geological disposal and radioactive waste management that present key elements of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity (e.g. integration of socio-economic and natural sciences; explicit acknowledge of interdisciplinarity; consultation with non-scientific forms of knowledge on framing the research agenda, etc). Interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinary have been used to refer respectively to an attempt to integrate or synthesise perspectives from different disciplines in a cooperative manner within the framework of a national R&D programme and as an approach oriented to bring closer together research and society to better respond to complex real world problems. The concept of R&D programme also had to be defined, since its interpretation varies between countries and over time. The analysis shows that the inter- and trandisciplinary character of national R&D programmes is strongly influenced by the great variation in the structuring of R&D responsibilities. In some countries, responsibilities for different R&D strands, i.e. technical and social in Switzerland, site-specific versus generic research in Germany, are set at the outset and clearly divided among different organisations. We may argue that this traditional approach based on the division between the ‘technical’ and the ‘social’ has important effects for the understanding of geological disposal and the challenges its implementation encounter. Failure to draw upon social science knowledge from the beginning could result in weak designed and underperforming R&D programmes. As a consequence, the social becomes empirically and analytically separated from the technical and this separation may prevent a deeper understanding of the nature of these relationships.
Other R&D programmes are set up by a steering group representing different interests, which in principle, may suggest an effort towards opening up to different disciplines and societal perspectives. We suggest the need for incremental changes towards setting up research partnerships tailored to address scientific and societal changes in innovative ways. Researchers should be permitted to venture beyond the frontiers of their own disciplines and address complex questions of societal relevance, together with stakeholders outside academia.
In some cases, R&D programmes are self-named ‘interdisciplinary’ but the problem is mostly framed in techno-scientific terms and social sciences remains a tiny part of a whole programme dominated by technical concerns, impeding the possibility to challenge technical solutions. The greater funding and the management structures of these programmes significantly show that they are anchored in natural sciences. From our study it appears that interdisciplinary dialogue is only rarely realised on potentially fruitful topics for integrative research, such as risk assessment or safety case development. Overall, developing structured earmarked R&D programmes at national level enables the formation of a network of researchers on a specific topic, making it more visible, raise interest in radioactive waste management and could even facilitate innovation.
Most of the consultation exercises in the R&D programme are informal and there is not a specific procedure to consult stakeholders in the R&D programme regarding radioactive waste management. The agenda setting phase and the review of R&D results provide tremendous opportunities for collaboration between different types of knowledge.
In the case of InSOTEC Eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia), these have not developed a documented R&D programme on radioactive waste management. The institutional features inherited from the communist period, the political and economic situation and certain country-specific developments result in a lack of clear strategies in the energy field, including nuclear research. Social science research in the field of radioactive waste management is almost non-existent, limited to opinion polls, European research projects coordinated by Western organisations or understood as public relations campaigns. European research projects, such as NEWLANCER and PLATENSO , have the potential to contribute to the development of R&D strategies which take into account the socio-technical challenges of radioactive waste management.
Finally, this WP investigated the potential for integrating social aspects in technical research and development in geological disposal by exploring two research ‘tools’, namely European Technology Platforms and 7th Framework Programme (FP7) research projects, to envisage the connections between technical and social issues, as there are intrinsic socio-technical challenges associated with their implementation.
The statements from the ETPs documents reviewed show that technical issues tend to feature prominently, suggesting that basic technical breakthroughs have to occur, clearly outweighing socio-political factors. Hence, acceptance of the technology would be necessary and regulation and economic support needs to be in place. There is a tendency to assume straightforward or unproblematic developments in the regulatory context, social acceptance or the technical development. We suggest that both ETPs and research projects as potential spaces to stimulate discussion about the future of the technology, engaging with stakeholders to promote critical reflexivity among the research community.
Extending dialogue on the social and ethical dimensions of the technologies with other scientists, including policy-makers and regulators in a two-way direction, before the technology becomes relatively ‘locked in’, could be one way to facilitate this socio-technical integration. Furthermore, it might be of interest to provide sustained interaction spaces for reflection, deliberation and appraisal with stakeholder groups on the alternatives to the current technologies. Engaging different disciplines and different publics in R&D has a number of consequences ranging from new ways of collaboration between academics and professionals, promoting dialogue with stakeholder groups, training researchers differently or using different methodologies and ways of communicating science, to name a few. Upstream engagement seeks to provide opportunities for early consideration of socio-technical implications by involving policy-makers, scientists, engineers and the public in a dialogue about science and technology decisions at the level of policy making.

Furthermore, we believe that ‘demonstration’ should be further investigated, as it can provide the link between R&D and deployment of certain technologies and is part of a social process of knowledge production and technology development. Demonstration can provide a bridge between R&D and use of the technology in an environment of actual practice, visualising and materialising knowledge. Through demonstration of the technology (for instance, Underground Research Laboratories in the case of geological disposal), confidence can be built in the science and technology and the robustness of the solution. Additionally, these demonstration devices can become important communication tools, providing technical objects in social settings which may be reconsidered over time depending on technical, societal and political developments and expectations.
3.4 WP4 : Practical recommendations to address implementing geological disposal as a socio-technical challenge
This work package aimed at translating the results and elements gathered in WP1, WP2 and WP3 into practice-related insights/observations on how to foster and strengthen a greater awareness on the entanglement of the social and the technical in long-term radioactive waste management. The main activities from Work Packages 1 to 3 that contribute to Work Package 4 (WP 4) may be summarized as follows:
• evaluating previous ‘governance’ oriented projects mainly at the EU level,
• setting up national reports reflecting on different actors’ views on socio-technical combinations,
• developing case studies on the entanglement of the social and the technical different contexts of long-term radioactive waste management,
• reviewing internal structure and functioning of the IGD-TP, and
• mapping and analysing national R&D networks.
In order to meet the expectations of key actors and stakeholders the InSOTEC stakeholder seminar in November was used as a key kick-off contribution to WP 4 and to the development of recommendations.
Starting from the observation in the synthesis presentation of WP 2 results “Rethinking what is social and what is technical” that the social-technical divide is the dominant view in modern society, various issues that are relevant with regard to overcoming this divide were raised by participants of the stakeholder seminar in plenary and working group discussions. They covered amongst others the following points: (1) The influence of disciplinary thinking and working was identified as a crucial point and different voices were raised promoting inter- and transdisciplinary working and research in radioactive waste management referring, however, also to the various difficulties that are related to these forms or interaction. (2) The aspect of delegation was discussed focusing on the delegation of responsibility to technical experts or political decision-makers. This raises questions as to in how far current approaches of public participation are suitable for overcoming delegation and strengthening co-production, and on how roles and responsibilities are distributed among the different actors. (3) The need for long-term governance has to be considered as one of the specific challenges of nuclear waste management. This calls for flexibility and at least a minimum degree of openness in order to allow for developments in science and technology as well as in political and societal values and objectives.
Compiling the results of the seminar and of Work Packages 1 to 3 also confirmed that supporting technical democracy or a socio-technical approach in the long term management of high level radioactive waste implies first and foremost that one should not restrict this to the question of implementation, but also include this in the development of the concerned technology. Therefore WP 4 looked at governance processes in a way that explicitly starts with the front end, namely R&D into disposal technology, before moving on to implementation and the question of long-term governance. Meanwhile, one needs to keep in mind that there is no clear cut boundary between these phases. They partially overlap and it would be too simplistic to simply approach them in a linear and consecutive fashion.
Considering the objectives and target group of the WP 4 deliverable D 4.1 it was agreed with the SRG, the project’s advisory board, that the WP4 deliverable would be written up as a “non-technical report” which is understandable for any key actor in long term radioactive waste management or even for anyone with an interest in the matter. On this background, the deliverable D 4.1 draws conclusions at the end that are as concrete and practice related as possible considering, however, the limits that are set to interpretation of the empirical and analytical results on which they are mainly based. The main conclusions can be summarized as follows:
Going a step beyond stepwise
In the context of implementing geological disposal we find various models of separating the long and complex process into smaller steps in order to generate a number of (subsequent) bits that appear manageable within the framework of established (or close to established) governance procedures. What is understandable form the point of view of an implementer or a decision maker wishing to reduce step by step the amount of issues that need a (technical, societal or political) solution can become a major obstacle to adequately reflect on the socio-technical entanglement, when a large part of technical issues are excluded from public discussions (often not intentionally, but due to a lack of active promotion of such debate), and public participation is reduced to selected parts of the process.
Recognising the need for participation beyond organised forms
When public participation in long-term radioactive waste management takes place, it is typically in a form of invited and organised dialogue. However such a format risks to exclude parts of the public and to prevent them from contributing to the development of the proposed technology. This does not mean that forms of organised participation, e.g. via representatives of different societal groups, may not be a reasonable tool, but the democratic process may neither be limited to participation of a selected group under a defined framework, nor may it be reduced to a certain phase of a planning and implementation process.
Changing the approach of conflict
Conflicts are often interpreted as a cognitive misunderstanding (along the so called ’deficit model‘). Nevertheless one could see conflict as an informal assessment of the problems raised by a technical solution. In this perspective conflict can also be useful, as it allows to anticipate certain weaknesses of the proposed technology and to make adjustments. This is why, in a way, conflict can constitute a good opportunity to ameliorate a technical project.
To take advantage of this opportunity means to organise a learning process that can lead to reproblematize at least some of the technical features of the project. Such a process would need to be organised with a long-term perspective and thus comprise procedures for capturing problems raised in different arenas and for translating them into new R&D questions. One concrete suggestion to put this into practice, could be for waste management organisations to set aside a certain proportion of their research budget to respond to questions the public can indicate they would like researched.
Overcoming disciplinary barriers
The complex socio-technical problem of geological disposal cannot be solved through a system of compartmentalised scientific knowledge. Inter- and transdisciplinary research can contribute to overcoming disciplinary barriers and offers opportunities for meaningful involvement of stakeholders. To establish this, research institutions and individual researchers should be actively stimulated and invited to venture beyond the frontiers of their own disciplines and address complex questions of societal relevance, together with stakeholders outside academia.
Embracing flexibility and avoiding technological ’lock-in’
To allow a learning process, the geological disposal project as a long-term management strategy should be flexible, that is to say remain open to change, adaptation and correction. The notion of reversibility could be useful in organising such flexibility. This vision of what we could call an experimental or open-ended process is of particular relevance when faced with the time-scales associated with the nature of the waste as well as with the implementation of any long-term management strategy. Considering these timescales we can imagine that at present we are not able to envisage all problems, changes in the context, etc. that could arise over time.
This calls for a different approach to dealing with uncertainties. We therefore propose approaching the implementation of geological disposal as a (scientifically) controlled, open-ended exploration towards a possible solution. Flexibility thus also means the ability to maintain the capacity for technical innovation, which implies the continuation of research programmes as an integral part of the implementation process. This may have implications in terms of costs, but on the other hand allows for a more realistic implementation of an inevitably long and stepwise process, taking several generations to accomplish. A classical project-based approach, with a clear beginning and end-point does not work in this situation.
To be useful for continuous amelioration of the applied technology, both the implementation and accompanying research programmes should seek to engage society at large, and the most directly concerned actors in particular, in defining what are remaining questions and how they should be addressed.

The ‘one solution’ that facilitates the ’perfect’ and reflective way of approaching long-term radioactive waste management of course does not exist. The conclusions drawn in D 4.1 may, however, contribute to shaping the respective processes in a way that pays more attention to the socio-technical entanglement, and acknowledges and accepts complexity and the need for openness – rather than reducing it.
Potential Impact:
4 Key messages and potential impact
The InSOTEC project results, as documented in the 7 reports (formal deliverables) and various working papers and project presentations published on the website, should contribute to the scientific and societal debate on geological disposal as a technology in the making. InSOTEC findings encourage reflectivity and can raise awareness with all concerned parties of the added value of participation as a form of technical democracy, dealing with societal concerns relating to issues such as long-term safety, performance confirmation and managing uncertainty and risk.
4.1 Key messages
The relative abstract notion of ‘technical problematisation’ (i.e. defining a problem related to a technological project, its probable causes and possible solutions in terms of technical modifications) put forward in deliverable D2.1 Making Technical Democracy Real invites concerned parties to think further on the practical implications thereof in their specific situation. It encourages implementers, regulators and the techno-scientific community working on repository design and issues related to the safety case to more explicitly invite concerned societal actors, such as citizens in potential host communities to participate in the technical debate. It encourages the latter to explicitly claim a role in that technical debate beyond discussing the local impact of the implementation of a given technology on a given location.
This is not to say such awareness does not already exist. However, the tendency to ‘purify’ technical questions in order to move them away from the public domain and into the field of technical experts remains strong. InSOTEC findings remind all concerned to stay alert for this tendency, to be open to technical problematisation by society and not to necessarily disregard the putting into question of a technology as a cognitive misunderstanding nor to consider conflict by definition as a negative.
Considering the timescales associated with the nature of the waste as well as with the implementation of any long-term management strategy it is unlikely that at present we are able to envisage all problems, changes in the context, etc. that could arise over time. Therefore, InSOTEC calls for a different approach in dealing with uncertainties and proposes to approach the implementation of geological disposal as a (scientifically) controlled, open-ended exploration towards a possible solution. Flexibility thus also means the ability to maintain the capacity for technical innovation, which implies the continuation of research programmes as an integral part of the implementation process. A democratic process of continuous amelioration of the applied technology demands that both the implementation and accompanying research programmes are organised so as to engage society at large, and the most directly concerned actors in particular, in defining what are remaining questions and how they should be addressed.
4.2 Potential impact
InSOTEC insights and an understanding of the concept of geological disposal and issues of safety in terms of socio-technical combinations, social versus technical problematisation (i.e. defining problem and solution as either social or technical) could contribute to the IGD-TP’s mission to build confidence in the safety and implementation of geological disposal solutions and in the practice of radioactive waste management in general. They allow waste management to be regarded as a combined social and technical activity, and the concept of geological disposal to be not merely seen as a technical artefact to be introduced in a not necessarily receptive social environment, but as part of that social environment and therefore being partially shaped by it. This is not only relevant in view of building confidence and gaining public and political support at the national (and international) level for geological disposal as the preferred option for the safe long-term management of long-lived and/or high-level waste (as is the goal of the IGD-TP), it is also very important for local citizens living near potential repository sites, as these issues touch upon the very core of their concerns: namely how to build and maintain a sustainable relationship over time between the host community and the waste management system (of which the repository facility will be a major component).
Impact within the field of RWM
Throughout the project, seminars and other regular contacts were organised with representatives of various stakeholder types in the field of RWM, which stimulated interaction, exchange and learning. Of particular relevance where the contacts with the members of the project’s Stakeholder Reflection Group (SRG), an advisory committee composed of nine individuals representing different groups interested in the subject (social scientists, implementers, local communities involved in RWM issues, national oversight bodies, the IGD-TP and the NEA) and with the IGD-TP. The latter in the form of presentations and discussions of InSOTEC results and recommendations. These contacts with the SRG and IGD-TP ensured that different perspectives from potential end users were taken into account, but also that interaction between them and the project was stimulated, resulting in a direct impact of the research work. InSOTEC work for example led to the setting up of a dedicated working group within the IGD-TP to implement InSOTEC research results.
Other indicators of the direct and potential further impact of the project, are:
- The number and variety of participants at the two Stakeholder Seminars organised by InSOTEC.
At both occasions between 80 and 90 people participated from up to 19 different countries (also from outside Europe), representing the scientific community, industry, implementers, regulators, civil society and policy makers. The second seminar was attended by as many scientists representing more ‘technical’ disciplines than there were participants from the social sciences and humanities (not counting the InSOTEC consortium members); a clear sign that the project managed to reach out and raise an interest beyond the field of social sciences.
- The invitations received by consortium members from technically oriented research projects, seminars and conferences to present InSOTEC work.
- The invitations received by consortium members to provide advice to national policy makers, research programmes and international events. Some examples:
• UA invited to advise the Engaged project on political requirements &
social expectations regarding geological disposal. Engaged was a project launched within the framework of OPERA, the Dutch national research programme.
• UTA and JYU taking part in preparing a long-term research strategy for the Finnish nuclear sector.
• UA author of the Belgian country report invited to participate in an expert round table on the management of spent fuel in Belgium, organised by the Federal Office of Economy.
• InSOTEC coordinator invited to participate in a JRC-EASAC seminar on "Management of Spent Nuclear Fuel and its Waste".
• Merience invited to participate in the Programme Committee to prepare the NEA Symposium “Safety Cases for Deep Geological Disposal of Radioactive Waste: 2013 State-of-the art”, held in Paris from 7-9 October, 2013.
Scientific impact
Besides contributing to the specific field of radioactive waste management, InSOTEC research provides new insights in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and in social studies of complex technologies. The work package 2 synthesis report and various supporting case studies are being developed further as scientific papers and submitted to peer reviewed journals. The synthesis report from work package 1 has meanwhile been published in open access in the Journal of Risk Research and the authors have presented this work at two social sciences workshop dedicated to the subject of radioactive waste management and at two general social sciences conferences.

In order to take further the findings from this project, InSOTEC partners think it is important to broaden the stream of social sciences research on radioactive waste management to include research on the social aspects of science and technology in this matter and on the technical translation of socio-political requirements. Furthermore we see a need for more integrated and interdisciplinary R(D)&D projects on radioactive waste management in general and of geological disposal in particular, bringing together researchers from natural sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities.
List of Websites:
www.insotec.eu